D’Abbraccio: Duke phenom Okafor boasts inventiveness, dominance around rim like no other big man

first_img Published on February 13, 2015 at 12:49 am Facebook Twitter Google+ Editor’s note: Two beat writers were assigned to make a case for which player they would rather have for one game — one for Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas, one for Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.Don’t get me wrong — Rakeem Christmas is having a hell of a season.He’s enjoyed a relatively unprecedented spike in production for a Syracuse big man. A year after being the Orange’s fourth scoring option — and I use the word option cautiously — he’s in the conversation with the country’s best post players.I’d gladly have his production on my team. But I wouldn’t pass on Jahlil Okafor first.The 6-foot-11, 270-pound Duke freshman is in line for a ton of accolades this season and will probably be the first player to emerge from the green room at the NBA Draft. Christmas’ draft potential won’t even land him in the arena that day. In the long term, this isn’t much of a debate. On a one-day rental, though, it’s closer — but I’m still taking Okafor.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHe’ll likely have his way against Christmas and the Orange on Saturday — partly because SU doesn’t have the depth to play Duke physically, but also partly because he’s just a more talented big man than Christmas is.“He has a toughness. Jah’s special in every way,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after Duke beat Boston College on Jan. 3. “He’s really got everything.”Maybe not everything — Okafor’s defense is suspect, particularly in the pick-and-roll game.But on the other hand, we haven’t seen Christmas defend anybody man-to-man for a whole game since high school. And in my hypothetical one-game moonlight as a head coach, zone probably wouldn’t be the way to go.Even though Christmas moves quickly enough to be a better one-on-one defender than Okafor, what the Duke center brings to the table offensively more than makes up for his defensive inabilities.Not only does he have 2 inches and 20 pounds on Christmas, but Okafor — who grabs more offensive rebounds than any other Atlantic Coast Conference player — uses his size better than the SU senior does. Christmas is an imposing big man, but a bit too thin to body up some of the country’s biggest post players — not that SU’s thin rotation would allow him to do that anyway.Don’t be swayed by the fact Christmas has exploded for 35 points this season and slightly edges Okafor in the rebounding column. The SU big man has played five consecutive full games. Okafor has spent more than 35 minutes on the floor in just two games this season — and has still scored in double digits in every game, unlike Christmas.But numbers aside, let’s get down to the skill sets.Christmas has really come a long way offensively. His footwork, baby hook and shooting touch from point-blank range are miles better from when he came to SU as a defensive and rebounding specialist. And he’s made good decisions when ACC teams have sent double teams his way.But Okafor takes it a step further. His inventiveness around the basket — switching hands seamlessly at the rim, reversing direction from seemingly dead spots in the paint and, most of all, converting from anywhere — is something no other big man in the country can compete with.“I was just trying to be aggressive and send a message that one man can’t guard me,” Okafor told reporters after Duke routed Notre Dame last Saturday.With his massive hands, hauling in entry passes and kicking them back out of double teams is nearly effortless — and Okafor’s been doing that since before ACC play began.Christmas can only receive the ball in so many spots on the court and be effective. Okafor makes it work with whatever space he’s given. Surround him with shooters, like Krzyzewski has, and Okafor’s even more of a weapon.Christmas doesn’t dribble well enough to get to spots like Okafor does, and he doesn’t connect from midrange nearly well enough, either — the two biggest clouds hanging over the SU big man’s NBA prospects, aside from his size.But again, this debate isn’t about the big picture.It’s about the one who can simply do more with the ball in his hands.Phil D’Abbraccio is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @PhilDAbb. Commentslast_img

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